The more intense park of the two Universal offerings, Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 and, unsurprisingly, features the more adventurous Universal franchises. Islands of Adventure includes seven different “islands” or segments which house similarly themed attractions—Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.
As with Universal Orlando, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is again the highlight here and features the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as well as Hogsmeade. In addition, Islands of Adventure features the strongest non-Potter elements of both parks as well as the lowest lows.
Below is my ranking of Islands of Adventure attractions from best to worst.
For my ranking of the Universal Orlando attractions, click here.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Once again, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter delivers the best attraction in the second Universal park. However, the surrounding Hogsmeade area is much less impressive than Universal Orlando’s Diagon Alley. While Hogsmeade does house the legendary Hogwarts castle, the village is small and much less detailed.
Thankfully, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey delivers the strongest experience in Islands of Adventure despite its weak surrounding area. The line takes riders through Hogwarts castle and the journey itself is nothing short of magical.
After being underwhelmed by Hogsmeade, the castle is absolutely breathtaking in how faithful it is to the series. Obscured by darkness and peppered with Easter eggs linked to the books and movies, it truly feels like you are roaming the halls of Hogwarts.
A mix of practical animatronic effects and 4-D elements, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey begins in Hogwarts and almost immediately has riders “flying” on a broomstick around the castle and into a Quidditch game.
Of course, the proceedings turn dark as the Death Eaters descend upon the pitch and the ride truly becomes exciting—I was giggling uncontrollably and amazed by the immense amount of energy and craftsmanship in one ride. If there is one ride you have to experience in Islands of Adventure, it’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
Jurassic Park River Adventure is easily the second best ride in Islands of Adventure. Unlike most of the 4-D attractions in both of the Universal parks, Jurassic Park River Adventure is a traditional boat ride that starts peacefully and ends violently as riders journey into the carnivorous section of Jurassic Park.
The animatronics clearly show their age, but the thrills in the final moments of the ride are unforgettable. In addition, hearing John Williams’ score as the gates to the park open feels straight out of the movie. If you’re worried that this aging ride has lost its charm, think again; Jurassic Park River Adventure is a classic ride that you need to experience.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
Situated in Marvel Super Hero Island, The Incredible Hulk Coaster is the best proper rollercoaster of either Universal park. Featuring an initial launch out of a gamma ray “cannon,” the Hulk is a fast, smooth ride that is over way too soon.
Much like the other rides, there is some context to be found while waiting in line, but the real thrills begin as soon as you rocket from the starting position. If you like coasters and Marvel heroes, expect to ride this one at least twice.
- Dragon Challenge
Oddly enough, Dragon Challenge is the only traditional, adult roller coaster in either of two Wizarding World parks. Former visitors of the park might remember a dragon-themed coaster called Fire & Ice—this is the exact same ride, but that’s not a bad thing.
Dragon Challenge has been repositioned in the Wizarding World and retains the unique ability to have two different coasters, or dragons, flying at once. While the starts are no longer concurrent for safety reasons, the ability to have two different experiences on the same ride is a novel concept. In addition, the two separate rides allow for shorter wait times and, therefore, quicker action.
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
While Doctor Doom’s Fearfall is not wholly unique in its execution, it still effectively provides the thrills of a “free-fall” coaster. Like other rides of its ilk, Fearfall is composed of a central tower (two in this case) where riders sit on the outside edges of the tower and hydraulic pistons quickly lift you and drop you—the direction changes never feel egregious and the view of the park is magnificent.
You may have ridden this coaster in one form or another, but Fearfall is a great execution of a tried and true thrill ride.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
Another mix of traditional coaster and 4-D elements, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman contextualizes the riders as unwitting reporters for J. Jonah Jameson, the smarmy Editor in Chief of The Daily Bugle, a newspaper where Peter Parker (SPOILERS: Spiderman) continues to work for reasons unknown.
The ride is a very creative spin on the elements that can be found in most of the other Universal attractions. In particular, “falling” off of a skyscraper to be caught in Spiderman’s web at the last second is thrilling and each member of the Sinister Syndicate brings a unique element to their attack.
Side note, Sinister Six must be locked up by some rival lawyers—the traditional name for Spiderman’s core cast of villains is nowhere to be found on the ride. All in all, The Adventures of Spiderman is a great ride for fans of any age and it is sure to be a staple of the park for the foreseeable future.
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Reign of Kong is again a mix of traditional coaster and 4-D elements. However, the ride itself is way too short—it is interesting as you ride in a “van” through Skull Island, but the ride ends just as is hits its stride.
This ride should have been towards the bottom of this list, but this is the only instance where the line is more interesting than the ride itself. About halfway through the line, there is an animatronic “native” of Skull Island that literally looks alive; she is surrounded by fire as well as an unseen tribe chanting “KONG, KONG, KONG” like a hopped-up metal concert. It was difficult to not be swept up in the intensity on display—as a long-form advertisement for the upcoming Kong movie, it works on many levels.
- Pteranodon Flyers
As with my other ranked list for Universal Orlando (click here), halfway through is where the kid’s rides inevitably make their home. Thankfully, Pteranodon Flyers is a unique spin on the traditional “swing” ride.
Rather than going around in endless circles, these swings follow a track high above Jurassic Park and it truly feels like you are gliding. As with many of the attractions below, I was a bit too large for the ride; for this one, I had to be paired up with some poor kid. That said, this is a perfect ride if you have small kids with you.
- Flight of the Hippogriff
Flight of the Hippogriff is a traditional coaster that will please young and old Harry Potter fans. Don’t expect big thrills, but the view of Hogsmeade is a nice touch.
Also, it is worth noting that anyone over 6ft tall will be terribly uncomfortable in the small seats. I regretted cramming my knees under the retaining bar, but the ride was worth it for the view alone.
- The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express from Islands of Adventure is nearly the same experience as it is from Universal Orlando. Again, it serves as a convenient way to go from park to park, but the effects on display are lackluster for the most part.
Again, the “windows” are screens that weakly display more creatures and characters from Harry Potter. The effects behind the frosted glass doors are the best aspect of this ride, but its nothing to write home about. If you buy the park-to-park tickets, use the Express for convenience, but not for the thrills.
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
Not sure who Dudley Do-Right is? Doesn’t matter! His ride is a funny parody of famous Universal franchises and results in an above average log flume.
Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, but there are some laughs to be had and kids will certainly enjoy this as their first water ride.
- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
Similar to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Bilge-Rat Barges is a water ride, but features a boat style where riders sit in a circle and go through some “rapids” together.
I’m sure this ride would be great for families who all want to ride together, but there is no excitement to be found here. In addition, expect to have water splashed and sprayed on you by Popeye characters who are floating a couple feet above the ride—the splashes never feel earned or avoidable; this is the wettest ride in the park, no contest.
After five minutes of Bluto pouring water into your eyes, it can’t end soon enough. However, the Popeye animatronics are nice to look at when you aren’t being water boarded by them.
- Seuss Landing
Again, it might not be fair to put the kids ride at the bottom of the list, but they are easily the least inventive options in a very creative and thrilling park. Seuss Landing was built for kids, I know this, but it is actually a very inspired and visually magnificent segment of the park. Rather than bashing the kiddy rides, I will offer a quick snapshot of what Seuss Landing has to offer for riders. Please note that my least favorite ride in Islands of Adventure is not a kids ride at all!
- Caro-Seuss-Sel: This is a cute, Seuss-inspired carousel. What’s not to like?
- The Cat in the Hat: Full disclosure, I did not go to this attraction, but it is an interactive look at Dr. Seuss’ story of the same name. Essentially, the ride takes you though “The Cat in the Hat” and fans of the book are sure to be pleased.
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride: This short train ride is elevated over much of Seuss Landing and will offer thrills to the kids without doing anything scary.
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: This is a Seuss version of those traditional carnival rides that spin in a circle and move the individual carts up and down. Again, it’s a slow ride that would be great for young kids.
- Storm Force Accelatron
Similar to the Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl ride in Universal Orlando, Storm Force Accelatron is essentially a spinning teacup coaster, but with Storm from the X-Men as a guide. However, you will probably not even notice once your stomach turns and vision blurs from all of the spinning.
Maybe I’m unfairly judging the spinning coasters, but my “adult” body no longer enjoys the same sickening thrills that I used to.
While Universal Orlando provides a solid mix of family-friendly and intense attractions, Islands of Adventure provides the highest highs and lowest lows in terms of thrills. With more traditional coasters and the legendary Jurassic Park, Islands of Adventure is a smarter choice for older riders even if it means missing out on the better version of the Wizarding World.
No matter which park you choose, Islands of Adventure and Universal Orlando both deliver hours of entertainment and an attention to detail that even Disney World struggles to maintain.
For my ranked list of Universal Orlando attractions, click here.